Category Archives: Anxiety
There is a truth about growing up poor that other people don’t understand. I’m not talking about “we only had basic cable” poor. I’m talking the kind of poor where no power or no running water was par for the course, where you sometimes had to take your bags of garbage to grandma’s house because they stopped picking it up from your place, where your mom skipped medicines because she didn’t want you to miss a field trip, where you wanted new crayons so bad but were afraid to use them, if you got them, because the next box of crayons was a long, long way off, where generic pop was luxury you can’t afford, where you didn’t have a phone at home for most of high school because it was too much money:
Everything takes more work than it should.
Everything requires more energy, whether it is mental or physical. The mental energy is the hardest. It’s survival, not only to have enough to eat and a safe environment, but the kind of survival that lets you feel as normal as possible. What shoes can I afford that don’t have a Kmart brand stamped on the side? If I go to the mall with my friends, how well can I pass off the I just don’t want to buy anything today act, when really, I see so many things I would like to have? Oh God, the teacher is asking about whether I’ve bought the book for AP English and I don’t want to tell the whole class that we can’t afford it because all the money is paying medical bills, so now what? Trying to feel normal despite being poor takes a shit ton of energy.
What energy wasn’t spent on managing poor was spent on being fat. Extracurricular sports and vegetables cost money, but genetics, depression, and starchy carbs from the food pantry were free. There are a million reasons I was (and am) fat, but not a damn one of them was because it was fun. I know that everyone else took a second piece of pizza, but if I take a second piece, will they judge me for eating it? If I was skinny, he wouldn’t keep me as his secret girlfriend and would finally hold my hand in public…. Oh god, how much will that chair creak when I sit on it? That space looks tiny and everyone else has walked through it, but I think I’m going to get stuck, but walking the long way around is so obvious, too…. Shit, I can’t get this damn shirt off in this stupid fitting room and I don’t think I can take it off without ripping it, and I can’t afford to pay for a ripped shirt.
This exhausting, endless questioning became how my brain works. As of two measly months ago, I make enough money to not feel poor for the first time in my life, but that is only until I remember my school loans, the payments I’m making on my eleven year old car, and the $1000 car repair that I financed three months ago. I have a ways to go, still.
Mike and I are being awfully frugal with wedding planning, which is great, because I certainly don’t want to take on any debt getting married. But I need a dress. And as frugal as I am, there is still are part of me that wants to feel like every other bride. I know that the day isn’t about the dress. I know my marriage isn’t about the day. But I want that chance to be the prettiest one in the room. To wear the lacey dress and rhinestones in my hair and be a goddamn princess. Just once.
Finding locations for dress shopping has been hell. I can’t afford almost any of it. I hate the thought of a used dress, but when I contacted the most reputable resale place around, I was told my size is pretty much a disqualifier. The whole while, this sick feeling just rots in my stomach: You’re too poor and too fat to be like everyone else. You better dial back what you want, because your best hope is to settle for what you can scrounge and tell people that this is actually what you want.
Well meaning people have suggested that I find a “nice dress,” and “not to worry about it because it won’t matter in the long run.” Most of these people have not been in my position. They either have the money or the figure that makes a lot more available to them. I don’t begrudge them their ignorance. I wish they would kindly shut the hell up, though.
If it came down to where the only thing I could wear to my wedding was two yards of burlap and an empty whiskey barrel, I would still get to marry the man I love. I have absolutely not lost sight of the fact that my goal for the day is to marry him.
But being poor, or fat, doesn’t exclude me, or millions other brides, from wanting a day of sparkles and magic and a ridiculous dress that will only be worn once. And it shouldn’t be this hard.
I haven’t posted in weeks, not because I have been intentionally neglectful, but because the post that has been floating around in my brain feels impossible. I’ve started and trashed a ton of times. While venting this frustration to some friends, I summarized what I wanted to write about, and after thinking it over for a few days, I’ve decided to just go ahead and post what I told them, so that it is at least out there. I need for this post to be outside of the confines of my anxious brain. When I have something rattling around in my brain and know that I need to spit it out to Mike, as messy as it might be, I warn him that I need to word -vomit. So here goes:
When Mike and I met, he was polyamorous, but not seeing anyone, really. He had a friend who used to be someone he dated, but they had pretty much ended before we met. He hadn’t had a date in 4 months, and I wasn’t looking for serious, so it seemed like it was going to be fine: someone to hang out with once and a while, but casual. I had naively thought that knowing he was on a different wavelength would keep me from getting too invested, and thus, keep me from getting hurt. And then, we ended up liking each other way more than expected, and got so close. And it was so easy. Except for the poly thing. I understood it and had no problem with it from a theoretical standpoint, but to think about it in practice was another story. I was falling in love. And so was he. He wasn’t seeing anyone else, so that wasn’t an issue, but there were questions to work out and insecurities to face that are different from relationships between two people who are only interested in monogamy.
Over the course of our relationship, Mike has fielded a LOT of questions. It comes down to this: when single, we both had assumed that we wouldn’t find someone who would check all the right boxes, but our solutions were different. It worked for him to have several relationships that each fulfilled different needs. I had just assumed that I would find someone to date, maybe, but no one would really ever “get” me. When we met, we didn’t have a roadmap for working it all out.
He seemed nervous because he was increasingly comfortable with monogamy with me. I have a big fear of comparison and am terrified of not being “enough.” There have been times where the general feeling is “holy shit, I’m so happy I can’t breathe, but I still don’t know what to do with this feeling or that feeling.” We’ve worked through a lot of it, and continue to do so.
For me, the hardest part is that in some ways, I’m figuring it out on my own. There aren’t many cases where someone polyamorous chooses to be in a monogamous relationship, so there really aren’t a lot of people saying “yeah, I’ve struggled with that, too, and here is what helped me.”
There are advantages to Mike having the experiences he’s had. It has helped our relationship in ways. Having to explore my own reactions and feelings has been really helpful. He has since adjusted his label to ambiamorous (which, admittedly, I made up), because he is not strictly poly, where he is only happy in multiple relationships, but is capable of being happy and fulfilled in a wider range of situations, from some polyamory to monogamy. And he knows that I have no desire to ever open our relationship, and he doesn’t consider that a problem.
So that’s what I want to write about: about figuring out a relationship that really doesn’t fit into most boxes. But I don’t know how to do that without ending up with people either 1. Thinking less of him because polyamory is still largely taboo, or 2. Giving me a long list of reasons why we will fail.
What I have learned in trying to figure out how to write this damn post is that while our situation is pretty unique, the experience of working through something as a couple is really common and vital to the health of any relationship. Couples everywhere work through challenges like blending families, religious differences, or a million other things. In each of those cases, there tons of reasons that a relationship might fail.
At the end of all of that, my conclusions are this:
- I am ridiculously happy in my relationship, and that does not depend on anyone else approving of it.
- Anyone who thinks less of it, or especially of Mike, can go to hell.
- Anyone who tries to give me crap about it better be prepared for me to respond.
- Our relationship is very healthy. We have pretty effortlessly worked out a lot of things without it ever feeling like work, and when we do need to slog through a tough conversation, the overriding desire for both of us is to come to a conclusion where we are both happy and know we are loved by the other person.
I guess that is it, for now. I’m happy. Mike is happy. And my brain feels less stressed out by having all of this on the outside of my head. If you have questions, I’ll answer them, as best I can.
And maybe, someday, I’ll tell you about the dinner party with my grandmother’s crystal.
A few weeks ago, I lay in bed with my head resting on my boyfriend’s chest, arm thrown across his torso, and we spoke in circles and tangents about a bunch of things, and at one point, I asked him what he wanted for Christmas. He said he wasn’t able to think of anything because he is in a place in life where he doesn’t really pine for objects. His desires are largely related to his comedy career. He paused, laughed, and said that the Mike of a few years ago would not recognize his present self.
I laughed and said that the old me wouldn’t recognize me, either. My own reflection would seem foreign.
Two years ago, I did not see myself in this town, job, apartment, or with him. I could not have fathomed it at all. I would not have anticipated the way my faith and religion would change. Maybe change isn’t the right word, but there isn’t another that seems to for either.
At no point in the first thirty-three years of my life did I see myself as happy, either. I was so certain that happiness – lasting happiness – was something that other people got to have. And then my life exploded and fell to pieces and floated back together in a completely different arrangement.
This kind of happiness is new, and sometimes scary. I am often terrified that it will vanish. That fear becomes anxiety, and a couple of times, I have found myself trying to explain it to him.
How do you explain anxieties to someone without sounding like you are crazy or messed up? I don’t really know, but I know this: his response has been breathtaking. It’s like someone gave him a cheat sheet that lets him in on how to listen, reassure, make me laugh, and redirect, all in the right amount and order, so that I come down off the panic ledge. It doesn’t take long, and I find myself back to normal – my new, happier normal.
Last week, my brain was pickled in hormones and it responded by making me feel like every minute was a swing between wanting to cry and rage. This is really unusual for me, even with hormones involved. For a week, my brain latched on to everything it could find as evidence that I wasn’t happy, that all the good things happening are ending, that I didn’t deserve to be happy. I knew it wasn’t true, but knowing that doesn’t mean anything when anxiety is involved. It made me feel like I was going crazy.
And for a week, whether he knew he was doing it or not, he helped me hang on, believed in me when I didn’t, loved me even when I didn’t feel like myself. It’s no wonder I love him to pieces.
There are a few things going on in my life that make me feel like I am at the start of a new chapter. It’s exciting, terrifying, overwhelming and exhausting. That has meant some bumpy days, but good days, too. It’s a new chapter in this weird ass adventure that has become my life. He is farther into his adventure than I am, but we get to figure it out together. I can’t wait to see what happens.
For the last few weeks, I’ve had really good weekends, with the exception of Sunday nights. Sunday nights have been spirals of anxiety as I come down from the fun I had the rest of the weekend. Tonight, in an effort to cut that spiral shorter, I’m going to focus on what I am thankful for, in no order whatsoever:
– English muffins
– A really good pillow
– My dog, who loves me despite having been gone so much
– My job
– Having my own place again
– Red lipstick
– A few partial days with my brother
– Coffee and my programmable maker
– Halloween candy (especially KitKats)
– Old books
– The lesser level of stress I have now
– Clean bedsheets
There are tons more, but now I’m getting sleepy and I better take advantage of that before my body decides it needs another English muffin. Good night, everyone. If I haven’t told you in a while, I love you.
Some highlights of the last few weeks:
After dinner tonight, my dad was flipping channels and ended up on an episode of Extreme Weight Loss. I hadn’t seen it before, but the premise is familiar: take an obese person, give them a crap ton of personal training and resources and let us all live vicariously through their weight loss while we sit on our butts and shovel in the Oreos. We only caught part of the episode, but rather than inspire me to use the gym membership I’m paying for, it made me want to pull the blankets over my head and give up.
This week’s subject, at her heaviest, was only 34 pounds more than I am now. She was 40 pounds lighter than my heaviest weight.
They kept showing her initial photo: a sad expression on a puffy, droopy face, her stomach huge and far past the “muffin top” stage, her thighs stuck together… How tragic it is to look that way, they inferred. How grossly unfortunate that a person exists like this. Once she loses the weight, then she might be pretty.
I shifted in my chair. I kept watching, wanting to see how she turned out, regretting every bite I’ve eaten in six weeks. In the end, she beat her goal by a few pounds and everyone in her reveal audience cheered.
I wished that it hadn’t been so long since I’d eaten dinner because I wanted to throw it up (don’t freak, I haven’t thrown up in almost a decade). Instead, I messaged my bff.
My best friend since fifth grade, she is no newbie to handling my body image issues. She was there when I was a big-boobed size 7 in sixth grade, convinced I was enormous. She was there when I was a size 24, and every minute of every day as I’ve tried to shrink. She reminded me that people are stupid and told me I’m beautiful. We never agree on the latter, but she seems determined to be wrong.
“Be kind to yourself,” she told me last night.
I’m so exhausted of being told that to look like me is to look disgusting, ugly, and unfathomable. I’m so exhausted of having to try to drown out that persistent thrum of society that tells me in a million ways that the bigger I am, the less I am worth. I’m so tired of being told that if I want to be “normal,” or happy, or pretty, or desirable, I have to become half of what I am now.
I know that there are women who are confident in how they look, women who are anything but thin who work what they have, and do it well.
I am not one of those women. I am not a Melissa McCarthy, who boldly tells anyone who gives her crap about her size to kindly fuck off. I wish I was bold and brave like that, but I’m just not.
I’ve been seeing someone for a few weeks. It’s kind of casual and nothing official, but tomorrow is our fourth date. Near the end of our last date, he said something that very nearly got him slapped, had he not quickly explained himself: “You’re like a 70’s porn star; you see what you want and you go for it. That kind of confidence is fucking sexy.”
Me? Confident? Are you kidding me!? I am anything but confident. What I am is a decent actress with just enough pride and vanity to keep her from throwing up from nerves. If only he knew what was going through my head while I tried desperately to act like I was chill:
I like your arm around me. But please don’t squeeze too hard and realize how soft my hips are.
Your hand on my arm is nice, but please don’t notice how my batwings hang like drapery.
Kiss me again. But don’t open your eyes because I don’t want you to see how fat my chin is and how undefined my jaw is when my head is at this angle.
I won’t be the one to take your hand when we walk down the street, no matter how much I want to, because I worry you won’t want people to think we’re “together.” So please take mine.
I am not confident. I am tired.
I scrolled through Facebook as I walked to the bathroom to take a shower. Another friend posted another picture of her abs. I undressed in the bathroom and reached around to the back of my shoulder to scratch a mosquito bite and had the misfortune of seeing myself from the waist up in the reflection in the mirror.
I saw the stretch marks on the back of my arm, the result of my arms changing in composition as I built muscle faster than the skin shrank. I saw the roll where my boob pulled the flesh from my upper rib cage down, and the stomach that had a permanent muffin top shape, even when not wearing pants, and the way that my stomach protruded in the front, making me look about 6 months pregnant. I thought about how a picture of this hot mess would have such a different response than my friend’s did.
I saw the same things that made the TV audience feel pity. I tried to remember that I’ve made progress, but instead, all I could think is “this is the body I worked hard to get? Are you fucking kidding me? All that work, and this is it. Seventy goddamned pounds and this is it. I’m never going to lose enough to be anything other than fat. Gross.” And I felt tired. So tired. Tired of living in a body with an improperly working thyroid that makes weight loss damn near impossible. Tired of feeling like I won’t ever be small enough to be pretty. Tired of the looks I get as a fatty. Tired of feeling like I have to spend so much energy trying to ignore the messages society sends.
While in the shower, I thought about texting tomorrow’s date. I wanted to tell him that I hoped he’d be the first: the first (straight) guy to tell me I’m beautiful, or the first guy who didn’t lose interest after a few weeks, or the first guy to introduce me to his friends. I’m not confident that those things will ever happen. A little part of me hopes that they will, because I’m an eternal romantic, but if I’m honest, I’m really, really tired of hoping.
I went somewhere fairly unexpected today: CFOT (the pseudo-seminary I went to). I never intended to go back. I was certain that if I did, I would be either met with pitchforks, torches, and holy water, or would have a massive heart attack upon entering. The universe has other ideas, though, and I found myself saying to a friend yesterday, “I’ll be there tomorrow.”
My friend needed help. I had the day off. Every molecule in my body demanded that I go, so I woke up, used my coupon for free donuts, and drove the few hours to get there. The traffic was gross, but I didn’t mind it. It was when traffic cleared up and I was a few blocks away that things got wobbly. My hands felt a little lighter. My shoulders tensed. My mind raced: pitchforks or heart attack, which will it be? What horrifying circumstance would undo me?
Whether it was one or the other, I was afraid of one message being received again: I don’t belong here. It was a message I heard a lot when I was in The Salvation Army. I saw myself being greeted by one of the officers who was sure to not want me there and having to explain why I was on campus. I thought of all the scathing things I would say and all the potential reactions. The one that brought me the most hypothetical satisfaction was the simplest: Because love shows up. When people need help, love shows up. In my mind, not only would this be simple, but it was also a little gratifying and pompous.
In order to get to the entrance, you have to drive around three sides of the campus. As I drove, I didn’t know what would happen. What monster was I going to meet? Three right turns and I saw the monster I didn’t plan for: my friend Steve.
If I’ve never wanted to jump out of a car I was driving before, I did then.
Steve is the best kind of monster. Steve is, for lack of a better descriptor, a Godzilla of love. Fierce, funny, unapologetic love for everyone, just stomping around this planet, daring anyone to prove themselves unlovable.
Cindy, listen to yourself sometimes: when people need help, love shows up.
I parked and called his name. He hugged me and in seconds, I was laughing. He walked me inside and I waited in his office for a bit. I didn’t feel like I didn’t belong anymore. I don’t know where he was coming from, or where he was headed, but through serendipitous circumstances, he was there.
I went and helped my friends for a while, and while I was helping, a few others showed up throughout my day: Heather came by and helped (I’ve known her since we were nine), and then I ran into her husband Xav, and my former instructors, Beth and Sandy. Dennis, whom I knew as a teenager and now as a young man. Hugs and happy faces. It was a mini “This is Your Life.”
Love shows up.
I was also excited to see my friend Brian, who works there. He’s been good to me over the years I’ve known him. He listens and and asks good questions. We sat and talked for a while before he had to leave and I drove home.
I wish I could have done more to help my friends, but I left knowing they have more help coming, other friends whom I love dearly are going to show up.
Love shows up.
There are times when I am still a little raw about the hurt some people caused. But the deepest part of my soul knows that when life is desperate, when my panic sets in and I need it, love shows up somehow, and often from the friends I have gained through my time in The Salvation Army. It’s not the place for me anymore, but thank God for the people who do get it right. Some are active members and some formers, but we all try to be Godzillas of love.
Because love shows up. When people need help, love shows up.
Everything has a “month” these days. Breast Cancer Month. Polar Bear Month. Nuclear Nonproliferation Month. Left-Handed Ginger Month.
Unless we’re talking about Donut Month, there is a limit to how many tweets I can read about it. It’s just too much to be weighed down with everyone’s “month” sometimes. Compassion fatigue is, well, exhausting.
In addition to being the month for a number of other things, May happens to be Mental Health Awareness Month. Aw, crap. This is where it gets really annoying because it means it’s kind of “my month,” when the thing that runs my life some days gets a little more spotlight.
I sobbed because there was no more ketchup.
My daughter spends days overwhelmed with depression and won’t get out of bed.
I probably would have taken my own life by now if I hadn’t gotten help six months ago.
He is just so mean to me, and I get so upset that I end up cutting my legs just so that it doesn’t feel like he hurts me as much.
These are just a few of the things my friends have said in the last few weeks.
It is sometimes the ultimate test of will to just get out of bed some days.
I still have times when I am suddenly afraid because PTSD is unpredictable. It almost cost me my horrible job two weeks ago.
The thought of living with my parents and working in this job for much longer makes me hyperventilate.
These don’t even skim the surface of the list of things I would tell you if I was brave enough. I don’t tell you because I’m a horribly prideful person who hates the thought of appearing weak in any way. The universe has a sick habit of pointing my weaknesses out, despite my best effort.
The graphics on Pinterest and Facebook blather on about how mental illness is not a weakness, and I get what they are saying, but they are kinda full of crap, too. Mental illness is a real thing, and it doesn’t diminish someone’s worth. But it does weaken you.
When you can’t focus, or you lose memory function, or your relationships suffer, or you start having physical manifestations of the problem, your strength just isn’t there. I think the problem comes when we expect to put on a brave face and function with strength that isn’t there. I don’t know about you, but having to operate outside my resource limit isn’t effective for very long.
We don’t like to ask for help. We fear it, so we look for solutions that don’t seem as obvious to others: alcohol, food, “essential oils” (my sister once saw a brochure for an oil that promised to help lessen the horrors of domestic violence), whatever. Just don’t let someone hear me mention a therapist or a pill, right?
I’ve always had generalized anxiety disorder, and developed PTSD a few years ago. The latter is far less intense or problematic than it used to be, but it still shows up once in a while. The prior is a beast. A nasty, ugly, lying beast that I deal with all day every day, to varying degrees. The last almost two years have taught me a lot about how to cope. Timeouts, “kindnesses,” cognitive behavior therapy, and sometimes medication are needed, and I’m getting better at using them at the right time.
An unofficial cousin recently wrote about how getting treated for a diagnosis that included anxiety has saved her life. She had thought that her misery was just how life was, but now, it’s like a new universe altogether.
I get it. Nearly two years ago, my baby cousin got married, just two days after I got my prescription for my anxiety meds. The first day on them was OK, but it was a pretty normal day. When I woke up and got dressed for his wedding, I was full of the “normal” anxiety I had before anything like that. They didn’t really want you to participate in the wedding. They only asked because they felt sorry for you. You better not embarrass them. Or yourself. There will be hundreds of people there. Just think of how fat you are compared to all the rest of the people who will be on stage. I took a pill as the personal berating I was accustomed to continued.
On the way to the wedding, it got quieter. It was like I forgot to hate myself, forgot to be fearful of judgment. By the time it started, I wasn’t thinking about me, I was thinking about how grown up he is, and how happy he looked. By the time I got to the reception, I was a “me” I didn’t know existed anymore. I wasn’t afraid to talk to the people I’ve known all my life. I didn’t hold my breath when I considered approaching someone. I danced (terribly). I had forgotten that life could be like that.
There are days that still suck. When hours last eternities. Moments when I forget all my coping options and start to close in on myself. But thanks to professionals and the occasional (appropriate) pharmaceutical, good days happen, too. Hours that are so much fun that I wish they wouldn’t end.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Most people I know have experienced some variation of depression, anxiety, or other tribulation at one point or another. Some of you have been at this longer than I have. At least a few of you are likely to be where I, and millions of others, have been: drowning in an invisible tide of stress, fear, and depression, at the end of your rope, not sure how long before you let go. If not for your sake, get help for my sake, for your children’s sake, for whatever reason it is that will save you. If knowing that feeling better will help you be a better dog owner, take that and run with it.
It sucks to feel weak, and it’s humbling to ask for help, but there is hope and light and a whole lot of beautiful on the other side. I promise.
My family does not do quiet well. I blame my father, though it’s not quite his fault. See, he’s a very big man, standing 6’9″, so his lungs and vocal chords are bigger, which means his natural speaking voice is much louder than average. My siblings and I inherited that volume (even if I didn’t get much height), and we have natural “outdoor voices.” As if that isn’t enough, throw in a few years of choir training and I have never, ever needed a microphone. I’ve never been afraid of public speaking, either.
Yesterday, I was in a rough place. I took a long shower. I cussed. I cried. I messaged a friend who has been here before, having resigned ministry a few years ago herself. I sat on my bed with a towel on my head and did the only thing I could think of: I wrote. I wanted to write about how unfair it was, how angry I am sometimes, how justice doesn’t seem to be winning. Instead, I wrote what was harder.
I wrote some of the things I cannot utter out loud to my little brother and his wife, who are about to enter into full time ministry. He may be more than a foot taller than me, but I am still the big sister who is terrified that her little brother will experience some of the same hurts. So I wrote, thinking not only of my stories, but those of other officers. Though I want all of the cadets to have fewer troubles than I did, my deepest concern is for them. I needed to tell them, but when I need it the most, sometimes that “outdoor voice” shrinks and I have to write it instead. I feared sounding foolish, or arrogant, or jumbled. If I wrote it, I supposed, I could feel that I had said what needed to be said, even if they never saw it. It was just some words on my little blog, after all. I didn’t even tell then that I wrote it.
I just wrote it. And shared it like the rest of them. And my friend shared it. And another one did.
And then my meek little cop-out got shared again and again. Then, someone in the UK shared it and suddenly I got almost 400 hits in about an hour and a half. Considering few of my posts have come close to that EVER, that’s a lot for me. In a little over a day, nearly 1000 hits from Iowa to the Isle of Man to Egypt. It has been read by people on four continents so far. Not sure of how it ended up like that, I asked a group of friends if they had seen it somewhere. A few had, and I peeked at what had been said.
They were agreeing with me. They thought it was bold but not offensive. They liked my writing.
Suddenly, I had a big voice again, whether I meant to or not. And I was a little less afraid of it, but only slightly. I have reread that blog fifty times if I’ve read it once, half-panicked that I sound stupid in it. When I started my blog, I didn’t think it would have much consequence. Big-picture, it doesn’t, but it does have quite a bit of consequence for me. The last twenty-four hours have restored a little bit of the voice I lost when I stopped preaching. They have reminded me that the words I have can be big. That my thoughts have a little bit of substance to them.
I’m not saying that I’m going to start writing presidential speeches any time soon, but maybe –maybe- my voice doesn’t have to be so small.
Holy balls Batman, it has been one hell of a week for my anxiety. Friday, I got to see friends who were passing through town and stopped to see me. Thank you, Jacob, Melinda, and kids, for your ministry of presence, time, and conversation. On Saturday, I celebrated the thirteenth birthday of my twin niece and nephew and got to see cousins for the first time in years. I don’t care who you are: when someone’s pants split totally wide open at a family birthday party, there is no laughter that rivals it (as long as it’s not your pants). On Sunday, I went back to my sister’s to do the annual Easter Egg hunt for the kids. They are so grown up that I want to just scream at time to slow down because it’s moving too fast… But they are still little enough that Caleb sat on my knee when there were too few chairs at the table, and Elijah was quick to share a Twizzler, and I was just overwhelmed with how sweet they still are.
Like anyone with anxiety knows, three consecutive solidly good days come once a millennium, and are certainly followed by a devastating crash. I tried very hard to keep my head above water. Some very patient and sainted friends listened when I needed it. The universe provided an abundant supply of pizza, which I have discovered is my fall back food (some women have Ben & Jerry’s; I have pizza).
I think I’m coming out of it, and because I really like lists, I’ve made one that I’m going to hold on to for a while:
1. I am who I am on purpose. I am not going to change that to make my boss happy. My brave friend, Steve, says “it shouldn’t be so hard to be who you are,” and he’s right. I’ve discovered it’s harder to try to be someone else all the time than to just be me and tell the haters to go fly a kite.
2. I am going to keep trying for better jobs because I am capable of far more than this.
3. I am going to celebrate all the people who stay with me instead of dwelling on the ones who have moved on.
4. I am going to spend more time with my dog. I miss her.
5. Emotions suck, but it’s better to have them than not.
6. Five days is too long to not go to the gym. It makes me crabby and stabby and moody, so I will get back into my habit of nearly every day.
7. Some guys are stupid. Really stupid. Really really stupid. But there are also guys who send me Empire Records quotes all evening on Rex Manning Day while I’m stuck at work. He might turn out to be stupid, too, but I’m choosing to be hopeful.
8. Hope is dangerous and nonsensical. Do it anyways.
Kudos if you are still here. I know it’s not profound or anything, but it’s honest and a kinder response than the first few I wrote.
Twelve years ago, while in college, I worked in a clothing store as a second job, basically trading my time for clothes. One evening, I found myself staring at one of the customers. I couldn’t help it. She had lips that belonged on a pinup, the most perfect shade of blazing red that somehow managed to look classy and not at all whorish. I complimented her on it, and she thanked me, explaining that she worked on State Street in Chicago at a very high end makeup counter and their makeup “uniform” not only included all black clothing, but red lips and minimal makeup everywhere else. I told her that I could never wear red lipstick because it looks terrible on me, to which she replied it was about finding two things: the right shade, and the right attitude, because when you wear red lipstick like you should be wearing it, no one questions you.
I smiled and thought “uh, yeah, no. I will stick to my rose colored glosses and Cherry ChapStick.” Wearing red lipstick was as scary as wearing a tube top, an act that cannot be ignored. Just think about it: no one remembers what Jennifer Lopez wears on her lips, but Gwen Stefani’s red lips are legendary, even above her outstanding clothing.
Most of the time, I feel like I’m walking a balance beam between wanting to be invisible and wanting to be noticed. I don’t want people to zero in on my faults and imperfections, which I think are glaringly obvious and visible from the International Space Station. When my ankles are puffy and my hair is Fraggle-ish and I just messed up at work, I am desperate to glide under everyone’s radar. However, when my resume is lost in a sea of resumes, and everyone is hanging out without me, and I’m having a good boob day, it’s all I can do to not walk around saying “hey! What about me?!? I’m special, dammit!!”
A couple years ago, I went to a department store to buy Chanel nail polish. It seemed like a nonsensical thing to get, but I was in a pretty low spot and wanted something over the top pretty. When I got there, I was bummed to find that they didn’t carry Chanel cosmetics. So I wandered around and came across Yves Saint Laurent Glossy Stain.
You know that first time you drove your first car? Or maybe when you got those earrings for graduation? Or the first time you had pizza at Lou Malnati’s?
That was me, meeting YSL Glossy Stain No. 5.
Angels sang. Stars shone brighter. The smell of summer enveloped me.
I was afraid, though. It was a far darker pink than anything I’d worn before. I couldn’t put it down, so I handed my MasterCard and left with a teeny little black bag of happiness in my hand.
I loved wearing it. It was just so pretty, even if I was a little nervous about people noticing my mouth. It would mean that they would notice me, even in a small and passing way. I couldn’t be invisible anymore.
Last fall, I went to dinner with my bff, Brandon, and afterwards, I was in a really good mood, high on laughter and chips and salsa. I decided to stop and see if there was another shade of the same stain that I’d like since I was up for something new. No. 9 was perfect, except for the fact that it was exactly what I’d feared: intensely red, glossy magic.
I feared it and had to have it at the same time.
The first time I wore it, I nearly shook. I wasn’t a red lipstick kind of woman. Those women were assured, confident, beautiful. I was just me, sometimes shaky, shy, and definitely plain. One of the best lessons my choir director taught me is that “this, too, is part of acting. If you present yourself like you mean to be here, no one will say that you shouldn’t be.”
In that vein, it became war paint. When I wanted to feel strong, in command of my universe, the red lip stain was one of my best tokens. When I wanted to feel gorgeous and anything but plain, painting the color on my lips went a long way. I am a different woman when I wear red lip stain. I get a surprising number of compliments when I wear it.
I’ve picked up a few more shades from other brands since then. Today, I woke up to a horribly anxious brain. I spent the day watching The History Channel and napping before heading to my niece’s choir concert. When I got ready, I pulled out a tube of stain that I haven’t worn in months and with one swipe, I remembered that this is the most intense color I have, and this brand doesn’t wear off easily at all.
Dang. I was already trying to fight through a scumbaggy brain and now here I was, with lips that are visible to the Mars Rover. Deciding to follow Max’s advice again, I took a selfie and stuck it on Facebook, declaring myself ready for the day. One of my friends commented on it, saying that I can pull off bright colors, but she looks silly when she tries. I found myself standing where that other woman stood twelve years ago, telling her to find the right shade and run with it.
Every woman can – and should – wear red lipstick, if not literally, then metaphorically. Find the courage to stand out. Draw attention to what you have to say. Even if you have to fake it, act like you are here on purpose.
Yves Saint Laurent changed my life. What will it take to change yours?